Low Rainfall Means Less Mold, So It’s Bug Party Time!

What Do You Call An Insect Drunk Flyer?


With higher temperatures across the northeast fruits and vegetables are ripening faster than normal. Insects are having a wonderful time and breeding yet another generation of bugs to plague the crops. Fruit that normally is insect free this year is, in some cases being infested with bugs and late growing maggots. So the crops are not harvestable. This is a problem for the farmer in several ways.

  1. He looses the crop, that means he has less money than expected this year.
  2. He can’t get the crop off the bushes it just has to stay there and rot for the most part paying workers to pick unmarketable fruit is a waste of money. There is no mechanical way to pick it so its going to just sit there.
  3. The dry weather means that the fruit is not rotting because mold only develops when there is some moisture. Fruit may have maggots but its not rotting.
  4. The absence of mold means that yeast can proliferate more. These will eat the crops and just like in beer they product alcohol. So the fruit is not rotting its fermenting!

Guess what? Insects like alcohol too! Fermenting fruit is a delight that is going to draw insects in for the party of the year. The hot weather can also cause the nectar in later blooming flowers to ferment too.

Yellowjackets/hornets and flies on fermenting plum.
Yellowjackets/hornets and flies on fermenting plum.

Do bugs get drunk? They sure do. It can be fun to watch bugs drinking fermented nectar and then weaving off on a very wobbly flight path after leaving the flower or fruit. As a child I used to love watching the bees drink the fermented nectar from our Sedum flowers and then fly off all over the place. With other insects is harder to tell if they are drunk. How can you tell if an ant is drunk? I don’t know they weave around even when they are sober, but a lot of them can still bite.

Problem is that a drunk stinging insect is like a drunk driver, they don’t know what they are doing. They can crash into you and then get annoyed and sting for no reason. Drunk insects can be a real danger from the stinging perspective. Drunk bees are usually not too bad since when a bee stings it dies so even a drunk bee tends to be a little concerned but if she is very drunk then she might just sting without thinking about the consequences. (All forager bees are female).

Paper wasp has a nasty sting and can sting repeatedly.
Paper wasp has a nasty sting and can sting repeatedly.

Drunk yellow jackets or hornets are a different matter. They can sting to their hearts content so drunk ones can be quite unpredictable and just sting because they feel like it. Non flying insects are not such a problem. They might run up your legs and bite you but its not as likely, unless you are near aggressive ants, but they wild do that drunk or sober.

Your best option is to stay away from areas where there is ripening fruit or plants that have lots of nectar at this time of year. Don’t let young children near these areas. Just like my mother would not let me close to our sedum plants when the nectar was fermenting don’t let children or pets near them now. Drunken insects can be nasty.

Will there be a rise in food prices because of the hurricanes?

This year has been disastrous for the US with Hurricane damage, first Texas, then Florida and then Puerto Rico. While almost everyone in the US is concerned about the people effected by these hurricanes many don’t realize just how much its might effect them too. Most of us have already seen a rise in gas prices because of the refineries in Texas but less noticeable, as yet, is the migrant worker effect.

Many jobs in agriculture are seasonal. Farmers only need workers during the growing and harvesting seasons so they employ migrant workers who come into the country especially to work these jobs and then go home in the winter months. These workers are essential to get almost all of our vegetable and fruit crops harvested and shipped to the supermarkets for everyone to buy. A large proportion of these workers come from either Mexico or Puerto Rico. Here in the northeast for the past few years a lot of the workers have been coming in from Puerto Rico. After the Hurricane disaster all these workers have gone home to help their families and be with loved ones. This is of course exactly what you would expect them to do. Other workers from Mexico have who have families in the Earthquake areas have also gone home to be with their families. This has left very few migrant workers for the remaining harvesting of vital fresh foods.

Farmers are now scrambling to find workers to help with the harvest of the remaining crops. The unusually warm weather which is also an influence of the hurricane has extended the season providing a longer growing period but also ripening crops a lot faster than would normally happen at this time of the year. Produce does not wait, farmers have to work to the plants schedule not the other way around. However with so few workers to do the harvesting much of these crops is being left in the fields. Many farmers are now considering that crops may have to be abandoned and ploughed under because there are no workers to bring the crops in. This may cause an increase in the price of fruits and vegetables since there will be less available on the market, its all rotting in the fields.

Will the price of vegetables rise because farmers cannot harvest crops?
Will the price of vegetables rise because farmers cannot harvest crops?

Many may ask why use migrant workers rather than home grown Americans? Simple. It’s almost impossible to get home grown Americans to do the job. The migrants are the only ones willing to do harder physical labor which is very hard work outside in often unpleasant weather conditions for fairly low wages. Agricultural jobs do not pay high rates farmers cannot afford it because the profit margin on fresh produce is very low. Consumers will not pay very high prices for fruits and vegetables everyone wants low prices. Low prices translate into low wages to grow and harvest the crops. Ask almost any farmer they will tell you without migrant workers there will be no food in Americans supermarkets. This year the prices may be higher. If such devastating weather continues in the future its certain we will see a rise in prices.

Coconut Fiber For Your Plants. Good Or Possible Hazard?

Could your potting soil or pots be detrimental to your health?

Quite a few potting soils today use Coconut Coir Fiber instead of sphagnum peat moss as the base for their mixes. It’s that fibery stuff that comes between the outer shell of the coconut and the inner bit that you eat. This material is trumpeted as better since it is a renewable resource from coconut trees and it is easily sterilizable. Once hydrated it can hold almost nine times its weight in water and then allow the rest of the water to drain away without getting waterlogged. It can be milled fine to be used in seed starting mixes or left with slightly longer fibers for use in potting mixes for larger plants.

Most gardeners are probably more familiar with Coconut Coir Fiber being used as hanging basket planters and small biodegradable pots. These have been gaining in popularity recently for two reasons: first they don’t break down quite as fast as peat pots making them easier for many people to handle, and again they are trumpeted as a renewable resource.

But sadly they are not renewable. Not any more.

Maybe you have heard of it, maybe not. It’s called Coconut Lethal Yellowing Disease (LYD)and it’s killing the world’s coconut population. It has already decimated the trees in many countries. The hardest hit so far are those in North America, especially Mexico and the Caribbean. It has also hit Africa, parts of India and the Pacific Islands. Many of these small countries rely on the coconut industry, it is one of the staples of their economy. In some places over 90% of the native palms have been exterminated by this disease. [1,2]

Coconut palms with Lethal Yellowing Disease.
Coconut palms with Lethal Yellowing Disease. Photo, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The problem is there is no cure. There are just two choices.
1. Cut down and burn any infected trees to stop the spread of the disease.
2. Treat the trees with antibiotics. Mostly oxytetracycline (OTC) is used. The antibiotic is injected into the trunk of the tree. This has to be done every 4 months for the life of the tree. It won’t cure it but it will keep the disease at bay so that the tree will live. [3,4,5]

This second method is being used extensively in resort areas. Most areas that rely on tourists want to keep their palm trees. After all that’s what the tropics are about. How can you have an exotic tropical resort without the palm trees? No one wants to be around a bunch of ugly dead tree stumps.
Areas like Florida also use OTC on their ornamental trees. Over the last 40 years Florida has lost a huge number of palms especially coconuts to LYD so using antibiotics to keep the ambiance in places like the Florida keys is essential. They also put out leaflets warning everyone NOT to eat the fruits (coconuts) of the treated trees [6]. A fairly high level of antibiotics is needed to keep the trees ‘healthy’ a lot of that is going to get concentrated into the fruit. You really don’t want to eat that.

Tree injection
Tree Injection. Photo David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

The crisis of the coconut is massive, but the demand for coconut products is still rising. With the advent of coconut water in the last few years heralded as the ‘latest super food’ demand is increasing not decreasing. While research into the problem continues trees are being fed antibiotics. In countries where the coconut is the main agricultural staple providing most of their export products financial ruin may occur if all the trees die and their crops are decimated. Whether these plantations use antibiotics to stave the disease off their trees is unknown, it’s unlikely they are going to advertise the fact to anyone. Perhaps the fruits are not being incorporated into our food chain but what about the fiber? This is not a food so it would not come under the same rules. There is nothing to stop anyone grinding up the fiber from treated trees and selling it as potting soil or using it for plant starter pots.

Is this safe?
Digging into the research on antibiotics and OTC specifically gets a little concerning. The stuff is used quite a bit in veterinary medicine so there is research about it’s stability which is fairly high. There is even research about it’s stability which is fairly high. There is not a lot of research about how stable it is in soil and how long it will last but piecing together lots of different studies it appears that:

1. It’s fairly stable in soil and can last around 10-15 days on it’s own in cool soil..[7]
2. It’s not affected by heat, it’s even more stable. Can take being boiled for 30 minutes before it starts to break down at any point. [8]
3. Much more stable in the dark.
4. Breaks down in more alkaline conditions but in ph neutral or slightly acidic conditions it can last over 60 days or more. [9]
5. Breaks down in sunlight much faster. [10]

What does this mean for your starter pots.
Since OTC breaks down in sunlight its probably fine for hanging basket liners where they are exposed to the sun a lot. If using coconut fiber starter pots make sure that the pots have a lot of sun exposure from the moment that they are used. Do not crowd them together or put them in an area where they don’t get a lot of light.

What about the potting mix?
Its hard to determine exactly how long the antibiotics are going to stay around in the soil. It could be a few days or it could be up to 60 days. The research that does exist on antibiotics and OTC in the soil all states that there is a reduction in soil biology and activity. Basically it kills off all the good stuff in the soil that you really need to make your plant healthy. The only way that they were able to improve the soil biology again was to add manure which basically reintroduced a lot of the microflora that they had just killed off.
If these substances are as stable as some research suggests then these substances are going to be transferred to your garden when you transplant the seedling. This means it could spread the problem to a larger area of your soil. The intention is to build and create a good soil microflora to keep your plants healthy and strong. Killing all this off with antibiotics achieves the complete opposite of what we want. [11 – 14]

Is OTC taken up by the plants?
There is little to no research being conducted on the uptake of antibiotics by plants. What little there is has reported that there was a change in the carbon source utilization and content. [15] Others reported that soil respiration was vastly decreased, meaning basically everything in the soil is dead. Others reported that there was a decrease in the growth of the tested plants, most likely due to the death of any soil microbes. [16]
There is no doubt that if the antibiotics survive in the soil that the plants will come into contact with them. How they are treated by the plant and if they are taken up is unknown. [17, 18]

So Is it safe for me and my family?
The simple answer is no one knows. For safety refrain from growing anything that you intend to eat in soil that may have antibiotics included. Flowers and other plants that are not intended for consumption are most likely fine but bear in mind that you may be destroying your soil biology when planting this material in your garden.



[1] The end of coconut water? The world’s trendiest nut is under threat of species collapse

[2] The World’s Coconuts Are in Danger

[3] Lethal yellowing disease of the coconut palms (cocos nuciferal.): An overview of the crises
Eziashi, E.* and Omamor, I.
African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 9(54), pp. 9122-9127, 29 December, 2010

[4] Coconut Lethal Yellowing Diseases: A Phytoplasma Threat to Palms of Global Economic and Social Significance
Geoff M. Gurr,1 Anne C. Johnson, Gavin J. Ash, Bree A. L. Wilson, Mark M. Ero, Carmel A. Pilotti, Charles F. Dewhurst, and Minsheng S. You
Front Plant Sci. 2016; 7: 1521.

[5] Lethal yellowing of palm
Harrison, N.A. and M.L. Elliott. 2008. Lethal Yellowing of Palms. The Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-I-2008-0714-01

[6] Dont Eat Coconuts From Trees Treated For Lethal Yellowing

[7] Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of the tetracyclines including glycylcyclines
Kenneth N. Agwuh1 and Alasdair MacGowan2 *
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2006) 58, 256–265 doi:10.1093/jac/dkl224

[8] Thermal stability assessment of antibiotics in moderate temperature and subcritical water using a pressurized dynamic flow-through system
Ola Svahn and Erland Björklund
International Journal of Innovation and Applied Studies ISSN 2028-9324 Vol. 11 No. 4 Jun. 2015, pp. 872-880 © 2015 Innovative Space of Scientific Research Journals

[9] Degradation of Oxytetracycline, Streptomycin, Sulphathiazole and Chloramphenicol Residues in Different Types of Honey
Milica Gačić1, Nina Bilandžić2, Đurđica Ivanec Šipušić1, Marinko Petrović1, Blaženka Kos3*, Nada Vahčić3
and Jagoda Šušković3

[10] Stability of penicillin G, ampicillin, amikacin and oxytetracycline and their interactions with food in in vitro simulated equine gastrointestinal contents
McKellar, Quintin; Horspool, L. J.

[11] Toxicity of the antimicrobial oxytetracycline to soil organisms in a multi-species-soil system (MS.3) and influence of manure co-addition.
Boleas S1, Alonso C, Pro J, Fernández C, Carbonell G, Tarazona JV.
J Hazard Mater. 2005 Jul 15;122(3):233-41. Epub 2005 Apr 7.
Journal of Hazardous Materials Volume 122, Issue 3, 15 July 2005, Pages 233–241

[12] Oxytetracycline on functions and structure of soil microbial community
W. Chen1*, W. Liu1 , N. Pan2 , W. Jiao1 , and M. Wang1
Journal of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition , 2013,13 (4), 967-975

[13] Effects of six selected antibiotics on plant growth and soil microbial and enzymatic activities
Feng Liu a , Guang-Guo Ying a,*, Ran Tao a , Jian-Liang Zhao a , Ji-Feng Yang a , Lan-Feng Zhao b
Environmental Pollution 157 (2009) 1636–1642

[14] Toxicity of the antimicrobial oxytetracycline to soil organisms in a multi-species-soil system (MS.3) and influence of manure co-addition.
Boleas S1, Alonso C, Pro J, Fernández C, Carbonell G, Tarazona JV.
J Hazard Mater. 2005 Jul 15;122(3):233-41. Epub 2005 Apr 7.

[15 ] Effect of veterinary oxytetracycline on functional diversity of soil microbial community
W. Liu1, N. Pan2, W. Chen1, W. Jiao1, M. Wang1
PLANT SOIL ENVIRON., 58, 2012 (7): 295–301

[16] Association Efficiency of Three Ionic Forms of Oxytetracycline to Cationic and Anionic Oil-In-Water Nanoemulsions Analyzed by Diafiltration
Authors Sandra L. Orellana,Cesar Torres-Gallegos,Rodrigo Araya-Hermosilla,Felipe Oyarzun-Ampuero,Ignacio Moreno-Villoslada
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Volume 104, Issue 3, pages 1141–1152, March 2015

[17] Tetracycline Antibiotics
Copyright, Purdue Research Foundation, 1996

[18] Uses of Antimicrobials in Plant Agriculture
Anne K. Vidaver
Clin Infect Dis (2002) 34 (Supplement_3): S107-S110.